Goals & Productivity

Moments blur together and days pass by so quickly that I truly cannot believe it is May. This past month and the past few months have been trying to say the least, yet incredible. Oh and it bothers me so when people say that, that there is a silver lining to those trying times when you’re in the midst of the struggle. It’s a battle to keep yourself from sinking into the quick sand. I’ve been there and am a bit wobbly still but hope that for just a few minutes, I can glance in the rearview mirror.

I had the surgery two weeks ago. And it was frightening in every way possible. My husband and parents were so strong for me. I had a multi-hour delay after being prepped for surgery—that was the scariest time. Every worry that I had worked so hard to keep myself from fretting over had lots of time to take center stage. But I just let it be. I leaned on my family and got through it, tears and all. The next couple of days post-surgery are a blur to me. And then I went right into the last week of classes and then this week: finals. My perspective has shifted so drastically. I’m exhausted and working hard to get everything done, but trying not to beat myself up over the many ways I could have made this week easier for myself “if only” I had (fill in the blank!). I need to remember that it’s only been two weeks and I’m not superhuman. It’s okay to take time to process and recover. Until today, I haven’t been able to do any exercise. I can’t wait to move my body again rather than crunch over books or type frantically as I watch my timer tick away.

Then, next week everything changes again. I’m so ready for a different pace, for time to connect with the people close to me and to begin exciting new journeys. But this frantic pace, it’s not conducive to the way I work and learn. I’ve taken enough tests for five people to go to college and never take a test again. Pre-test adrenaline no longer excites me, it exhausts me. My energy and time are valuable commodities that I took for granted for too long. I want to explore different ways of conserving these valuables so I can be resilient for trying times. I guess this is me looking back at the person I used to praise for getting so much done and realizing that none of that matters. None of what I’ve done defines me. I don’t rest on my laurels. But I’ve been challenged enough to know that when presented with a challenge, worthy of my energy and time, I will rise to the occasion. Right now, I am doing that. I am pressing pause and focusing on finishing what I started, this semester of graduate school. Why? Because the process is everything, it’s these moments when I don’t give up and so easily could that I reflect on during other challenges and know that I’ve done it before and I can do it again. And I do it again because the goal is more than three letters stamped next to my name. It’s one step in a much bigger picture that represents my future dreams, the crazy ones and the realistic ones.

My timer has just buzzed and the calendar officially says May 1st. I have a feeling this is going to be a beautiful month.

I hope that in my journey, you can see a glimmer of relatability–to who you were or who you are. Each day, I am reminded that our journeys are much more similar than we realize. I hope that May brings beautiful moments into your life, filled with glimmers of hope and possibility. And take time to soak up the magic of everyday moments, because I am choosing to believe that as corny as it sounds April Showers do bring May Flowers!

But above all, I sat down to write this post to thank you, each of you reading my blog, for your thoughts and prayers two weeks ago. I read your comments during those hours of waiting and they brought me so much comfort.

I am so grateful for you.

Love,

Carolyn

image: from my instagram feed! (username: @crubenstein)

 

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A few weeks ago, I shared my “dark cloud” experience with you and ended the post with a promise to share how I was able to let the light back into my life. Below is what I journaled the evening I shared that post with you. It’s long and a bit raw, but I do hope that it is helpful for others who may be experiencing something similar.

safe to simply be

Last night, I moved away from my computer and analytical tasks to work with my hands. I spent time alone in my office with the lights twinkling outside packaging single cards for Two Rubies (aka my little paper dream). I peeled tiny labels off adhesive paper, folded envelopes just right, collated each card with the proper envelope and slipped them into a clear bag. Over and over I repeated this act. It felt like deep meditation that I didn’t want to end. I was immersed in the moment, focused on the beauty of a dream realized, and the person that would open each card. I said a little mantra for each card when it was complete that felt so important (like this little mantra would be heard and felt by the recipient): “May you feel loved and worthy, safe to simply be.”

After completing 50 cards, I noticed a shift within me. I felt a bit lighter and a realization came upon me: Why am I not giving myself this mantra? 

The reason: I have been stuck in cycle of guilt—a personal guiltcation (my name for the “guilt trip”). I thrive in routine so returning from my trip to an overwhelming email inbox and a to-do list that could take the remainder of 2013 to complete left me feeling paralyzed and just plain guilty. And I let the guilt percolate. I allowed myself to think about who I was letting down all the time—never letting myself question what I may need or why this guilt exists or if I’m possibly letting myself down. My focus is extrinsically focused, even when I’m hurting and especially when I’m filled with guilt.

But what I realized is that I can’t let this guiltcation be permanent. I need to focus on the present rather than dwelling on the past. I need to acknowledge what I’m feeling guilty about in order to let it go and move forward.

At the root of guilt is a lesson, especially if the guilt serves no rational purpose (i.e., most guilt). For example, one of the things I feel great guilt around is my ability to respond to emails in a timely manner. I apologize for my email habits about 20 times a day, everyday. Clearly, something needs to change. I am going to face my email and examine how I can focus on responding to important emails in a timely manner. Most often, I don’t respond in a timely manner because I feel so guilty about all of the emails I haven’t responded to and get stuck either trying to respond to these old emails or feel paralyzed and don’t respond to any at all. Writing this for others to see makes me feel strange and vulnerable; however, in order to begin transitioning from this guiltcation (it’s no Hawaii), I need to acknowledge this issue and make myself more accountable (why not tell all of you, that should up the ante!).

Now, that I’ve recognized one of the roots of my guiltcation, I need to take action. I don’t believe in setting goals that are too lofty, especially for someone prone to feelings of guilt. Rather, the goals should be realistic. So I’m going to goal storm until something feels doable, and maybe a little easy.

I’ve been resisting the problem, increasing the guilt surrounding it—stirring the anxious pot. Naming the problem is empowering. It allows me to take back the reigns, to see where my actions may be askew and redirect how I move forward.

This I know: I want to live my life with intention. Guilt will not be the captain of my ship. 

:::

Do you experience the guiltcation? How do you overcome everyday feelings of guilt?

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It is 2:35 PM on a Thursday afternoon. I began this post in TextEdit yesterday, got stuck, and closed the document. Something wasn’t working for me, nothing seemed to stick—words and ideas were abundant but without connection or resonance. I opened this document today without a clue as to where the time would lead. As I type these words, I still don’t know where this post is heading. That feeling is frightening. It’s this feeling that I try to avoid through meticulous planning and hours of brainstorming. Then, I end up here and I wonder yet again: what am I doing wrong?

It is 2:42 PM. I’ve spent the last two minutes staring at my computer screen and at the words typed above. I wonder where to go with this post. Is there something within this document worth preserving?

Before hitting delete, I ask myself what isn’t working with this piece. What is different this time than previous attempts that were deemed successful? This question shifts my perspective and enables me to swerve off cruise control. Rather than berate myself and my writing process yet again, I’m going to make it more difficult. I’m going to shock my brain by requesting evidence to file under this failed attempt.

It is 2:49 PM. The answer isn’t difficult to find. When writing, I like to feel a sense of freedom. I like to feel as if I have the right to writeas if I’ve logged enough hours to discard the self-ridicule associated with this activity. I search for that right by looking for external markers—the time (how long I’ve been writing), the word count, etc.. My knee jerk reaction is to look beyond myself for the assurance that I can trust this process. This reaction is the reason I practice yoga. Opening a blank document feels similar to stepping onto your mat at the beginning of class. You never know what you’re going to get. Some days, you fly through poses and don’t break a sweat. Other days, you look as if there is alcohol in your almost drained water bottle. Most often, the judgment in yoga comes when comparing yourself to others or even to yourself from yesterday. When you shut your eyes and trust the process, you gather an inner sense of calm and control. These emotions fuel you through the practice until you roll up your mat and praise yourself for showing up. Have you noticed that yoga is the one place where you thank yourself for simply attempting the activity? I love watching a room of students during this ritual. It’s beautiful and truly rare to see so many people displaying self-compassion so publicly.

It is 3:00 PM. I’ve hit the bottom of this page and can’t believe 25 minutes have passed. This time has felt equal parts exhausting and rejuvenating. It has been a mental workout. The words produced during this workout and written above are messy yet beautiful reminders of this time spent practicing the process.

So do I have the right to write? The beauty of this question is the answer: it doesn’t matter. I did it anyway. You can always do more, be more, and improve your craft. This process is never complete. However, you must move past this knowledge and allow yourself to simply give in to its messiness. To show up, to start, and to finish. This simple truth is what separates professionals from everyone else.

image: graphic anthology

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Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again. —Joseph Campbell

In her TED talk, Susan Cain discusses the power of introverts—especially when they allow themselves to go into the wilderness.

The wilderness is marked by quiet solitude and contemplation. The wilderness is my sacred space.

The wilderness is composed of the set of variables that promote key stimulation and productivity. For most introverts, the key ingredient is solitude.

As an introvert, I have tried everything to repel this defining characteristic. My efforts only resulted in growing frustration.

Many of my closest friends are extroverts. My husband is an extrovert. In order to maintain these relationships, I learned to share what I need to be my most productive and creative.

In college, my friends and roommate knew that I didn’t go to parties over the weekend. They also knew that I much rather go out for an intimate birthday dinner than do anything else. When I was working, they would turn off the music and let me be in my zone. If not, I would get crabby fast. However, I also knew that I needed to give my friends the space they needed to be extroverts. When it was party time, I would plan to work in the library. At first, I did feel like an incredible nerd. However, over time, I realized that these were my quirks and I had to accept them as well as those who wanted to be close to me.

Currently, my husband and I both work from home. This situation would have driven me insane earlier in our relationship. He needs constant noise in order to stay alert and productive. I need the opposite. So I work in my office with the door closed while he works in his own little nook on the opposite end of the apartment. I look longingly at those beautiful desks made for two (how do Sherry and John do it!?) wishing we could work side by side but know that is never going to be successful for us.

Being an introvert is not glamorous. However, we each have our own quirks that make us who we are. Intrinsically, we know what we need to be most productive. Once we accept this knowledge, we begin to realize our power and our full potential. Then, the wilderness becomes the most glamorous place to be.

Are you an introvert or extrovert? Do you ever think you’re a complete nerd like me?!

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Visualize success. Visualize done. Keep your mindset focused on your vision. Ignore naysayers, the biggest one being yourself—yes, you—at all costs. Transform the impossible into the possible.

You get the gist. I’m a huge believer in the power of positivity and the hidden magic within each individual, the untapped potential that scares our reality.

However, when I come across a blog post or article stating almost exactly what I’ve written above, my inner fire is often ignited by rage.

Why do I get so upset by something I believe?

This question has plagued me for some time. Recently, I had a light bulb moment and figured out the key ingredient igniting my inner fire.

The way we typically define success when it comes to a goal or dream is through an all-or-nothing perspective. You either achieve the success or you fail to achieve the success. There is very little thinking about moderate success*.

Personally, I have dreamed big, succeeded big, and failed big. Whenever I dreamed big, I didn’t entertain the possibility of failing big. Without any safety net, whenever I failed to achieve the success I defined at the outset, I fell hard. Not only did my ego suffer, but also my ability to dream. I didn’t understand the concept of moderate success and creating a safety net for less than perfect outcomes.

Before beginning, prepare carefully. —Marcus Tullius Cicero

Whenever I read about achieving success, I discredit any post or article that doesn’t contain a disclaimer or little warning for what to do if you do all of the steps for success perfectly and the success you visualized doesn’t come to fruition. When talking about success in terms of the little stuff, it’s okay to neglect creating a safety net if you trip. However, when mountain climbing (i.e., dreaming and scheming big time), it’s critical to create that net beforehand or at least know before passing go that it’s going to be one rough fall without a net in place.

So please, dear super dreamers, dream big and visualize yourself at the finish line of success, but do so with caution for your gentle soul. Falling is painful, especially when you don’t even account for the possibility of falling.

Tips for Redefining Success

  1. Define success using your own metric (not one created by someone else/measured by someone else).
  2. Acknowledge the spectrum of possibilities (from really bad to really amazing). Think about the worst-case scenario and the oh my gosh (bigger than your wildest dreams) scenario.
  3. How would you feel in each situation? How would you deal with each situation? What safety nets can you create for yourself?
  4. Visualize yourself as a success—separately from this dream. Get comfy with this vision before going after dreams/goals that exist in the periphery of your life.

*moderate success: achieving something between “pass” or “fail” (i.e., getting points for putting yourself out there, trying your best, and moving forward—regardless of how far forward is defined) [as defined by carolyn]

image: hairbrained schemes

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